Regulations, directives and conventions - red tape explained

The Seafish Regulation team work on legislation relating to seafood as food, and to water quality and the marine environment as it relates to food safety.

What legislation applies?

The majority of legislation covering seafood is of EU origin and the impacts of Brexit vary depending on the type of legislation that applies:

International Conventions are unique in that they bind only states rather than individuals, and as they have no real enforcement mechanism, they are, in practice, voluntary. International conventions can only bind a sovereign state (for example the UK) if it chooses to become a signatory and ratify the convention, in which case the state agrees to comply with the terms of the convention and, in effect, the convention becomes law in the state.

How will Brexit impact international conventions?

A number of international conventions have been ratified by the UK directly and should continue unchanged; others have been ratified by the EU on behalf of Member States and there may be more flexibility in the approach the UK government takes to these.

A European Regulation is described under article 249 of the EC Treaty as: 'a measure adopted by the European Parliament acting jointly with the Council and the Commission, which shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.' Regulations are said to have direct effect and do not need the member state to enact further legislation as they apply directly in the member states law.

How will Brexit impact European regulations?

The majority of rules affecting food safety and consumer protection are EU regulations. There around 100 such regulations which, with no detailed UK legislation to protect them, will cease to apply post Brexit. It is still not clear how these regulations will be managed after departing the EU and there are both opportunities and risks for industry.  It is quite possible that there will be different regulations for each devolved administration, resulting in a potential 400+ regulations to be re-enacted in UK law or redrafted and passed by the relevant houses of parliament. .

An EC Directive is described under article 249 of the EC Treaty as a measure adopted by the 'European Parliament acting jointly with the Council and the Commission', which is 'binding as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.' Directives do not have the direct effect of regulations and as such need to be supported by national implementing legislation in order for the contents of the Directives to apply.

How will Brexit impact EU Directives? 

Because they have Member State legislation to support them, directives will not simply 'fall over' post Brexit, however the extent to which they will still apply, or the extent to which the UK government will want to apply them,  is, at this stage unknown. The picture here is further complicated because most of the Directives, and certainly the more recent ones, have four different sets of implementing legislation, one in each of the Devolved Administrations, potentially resulting in four different sets of negotiations.

The marine environment is mainly regulated by Directives, supported by UK implementing regulations. There are around 15 directives with a significant impact, supported by around 70 associated UK regulations, some still being negotiated. With the loss of the EU Directives, these national regulations could be renegotiated with potentially positive or negative impacts for industry. 

What next for seafood legislation?

The extent to which we will still need to comply with EU Regulations and Directives will depend on the trade agreements negotiated during the exit process, and on whether we remain inside or outside of the European Economic Area.

Whatever path the UK takes, the Seafish Regulation team will be working with both industry and government stakeholders to help ensure clarity and consistency during this period of change, and accurate information to allow informed business decisions to be made.


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